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Unless congress extends the unemployment benefits we have 2 checks left. Tents are on sale at Big 5 – I wonder if I should replace the family sized tent we discarded at the end of our 2 months of camping last summer. If we have to hit the road we will need to lose the trailer as we can’t pull it with the minivan.

I hope most of you have found our new blog by now – updates are posted there regularly.

Thanks to everyone for the support and advice on moving the blog. I have procured a domain name -theboxcarkids.net (not my first choice which would have been .com but it wasn’t available), and am working on finding a hosting site that will allow me to migrate this blog and continue to blog in word press. I’m setting up affiliate accounts with Amazon and eBay and a few other reasonable organizations. I hope to debut the new site in a week or so. Even if it doesn’t make much money at least it gives me something (other than helping my daughters with their school reports on the Civil War and China and the model of the Great Wall) to engage my energies and interest. Something besides the worrying and fretting which occupies me most days. If only our internet connection were more dependable!

 The April unemployment numbers came out not too long ago and provided another economic head scratching moment for those of us following the statistics. Head scratching because in April the economy added a record 290,000 jobs (yeah) and at the same time national unemployment claims rose from 9.7 to 9.9%.   Hmm, more jobs, more unemployed people?  Turns out the increase in jobs brought out people who had given up looking (and therefore were no longer counted among the unemployed despite the fact that they had no job). 

President Obama’s take – “[April’s] job numbers come as a relief to Americans who’ve found a job, but it offers, obviously, little comfort to those who are still out of work.”  The number of people unemployed in the nation stood at 15.3 million in April this year.   Counting those who have given up looking for work and part timers who would prefer to be working full time, the so-called underemployment rate rose to 17.1 % in April.

“When you look at the employment report from 20,000 feet, it’s all good numbers,” said Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust in Chicago. “What happened [with the higher unemployment rate] is that people rushed back into the labor force.”

“That will slow down and we will see the unemployment rate come down. But in order for that to happen, we need job gains and we are getting that now.”

Indeed the jobless rate declined in 34 states in April. So things would seem to be looking up, right? Briefly. Then on May 20th NPR reported that number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week by the largest amount in three months, saying that the surge is evidence of how volatile the job market remains, even as the economy grows.  Applications for unemployment benefits rose to 471,000 last week, up by 25,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

 So for us job seekers it’s a bit of a roller coaster – hopes up, hopes down.  And depending on your demographics your outlook might be colored by other factors.  For instance if you were a secretary or travel agent the opinion recently voiced by a number of economists – that some lost jobs will never come back and some out of work people may never regain their economic place in society – might send your outlook right off the cliff.  In the past few months this idea has been the subject of articles with headlines like “Lost jobs are likely not coming back;” “Jobs That Aren’t Coming Back; “ and “Even in a Recovery, Some Jobs Won’t Return;“  All of which essentially say the same thing – many of the jobs lost in the recession – in industries as varied as construction, interior design and auto manufacturing are no longer deemed necessary.  During the past few years of belt tightening companies have automated processes, out-sourced work, shifted duties and learned work arounds for laid off employees (such as having managers file their own papers, make their own coffee and book their own travel – administrative staff took a big hit, 1.7 million jobs lost).  Sorry folks, the recovery has begun and employers are thinking they’ll just keep some of those cost-savings after 2 years of penny pinching!

 Other demographics come into play for the job seeker as well.  Geographic demographics for one.  While the job market may be getting better in some parts of the country, several states – Michigan, Nevada, and California topping the list – are not seeing any significant improvement. In April California’s unemployment rate was at 12.6 percent, nearly 3 points above the national average.  The good news was that it ‘held steady’ – unchanged from March.  2.3 million Californians remain unemployed while non-farm payroll jobs increased by 14,200 in April. At that rate…well, you do the math.

Then there’s age.  Oh to be 30 again!  Although nationally the youngest workers were hardest hit by the recession, older unemployed workers are finding it harder to land a new job and are remaining unemployed longer. 

 “Things have been very tough for older jobseekers. Duration of unemployment for persons aged 55 and older has soared since the start of the recession and remains higher than for younger workers,” according to an analysis by Sara Rix of the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Those numbers do not paint a rosy picture for millions of older Americans, many of whom may never find jobs comparable to the ones they have lost since December of 2007.”

 I understand the AARP is holding job workshops to help older workers find “meaningful” employment.

Add in being a single parent with a damaged credit rating and you’ll begin to see why I’m not celebrating the economic recovery just yet.  I admit to owning a bleak outlook but not, I’m sorry to say, one I believe is unrealistic. I’ve been out of work for 10 months now- about 9 months longer than I ever expected I’d go without a job!  I apply for jobs and even interview from time to time, without landing one.  I am discouraged. I see the recovery as hope that my children may yet have opportunities but I am no longer confident about remaking my life from the ground up.

For a sobering take on the jobless recovery and what it will mean for America check out this article: “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the Atlantic.

Things have been tough for a long time now, longer for some folks than others, and even with the glimmer of an economic recovery on the horizon, in a grim article titled “ Millions of unemployed may never recover”, the Seattle Times reports that the effects will be long-lingering for a great number of people.  Likely to be especially hard hit will be those who have been out of work for the longest period, and older out-of-workers.  I guess that will be a double whammy for me.  It is thought by some economists that long stints of unemployment erode a worker’s skills and lessen their ability to maintain networking contacts.  Even those economists who doubt that workers in general would lose skills after only six months or even a year or two out of work, agree that long periods of unemployment tend to make it tougher to get re-employed. And, as the article says, “even after getting hired, such workers are likely to experience a sharp and lasting hit to their incomes.”  And many older out of work folk will choose to retire early which means more people drawing Social Security and Medicare, and fewer contributing to the programs through payroll taxes.

I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but I very much agree with a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly, and have said in earlier posts, that this recession  is bound to create fundamental changes in our society that will continue even into whatever level of recovery with which we are blessed. I don’t just fear my own future but the future of the generation that is in or just graduating from college, a group that globally has suffered job loss disproportionately during the recession. 

If you have children in this age group, read the Atlantic Monthly article. It’s a wake-up call.  And if, like me, your children are younger, consider what you can do to raise independent thinking, hard-working, entrepreneurial-leaning adults.  According to one study reported in the Atlantic Monthly article, teens and college graduates who have a hard time finding a job and suffer a lengthy stint of unemployment are more likely to develop drinking problems and symptoms of depression in middle age.  And that’s regardless of whether they eventually do find work.  There is something about not working that takes its toll on one.

A large and long-standing body of research shows that physical health tends to deteriorate during unemployment, most likely through a combination of fewer financial resources and a higher stress level. The most-recent research suggests that poor health is prevalent among the young, and endures for a lifetime.

Consider that the youth of today has been raised with high expectations – they’ve been told they can do and be anything and what’s more that they can have anything (a very materialistic generation) – but since they have also been “trained throughout childhood to disconnect performance from reward,… many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goes wrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will sort themselves out—or will be sorted out by parents or other helpers.”

Ron Alsop, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, says a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings. They’re used to checklists, he says, and “don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.”

Not a good starting point for kids trying to enter the job force during a recession – or in the lingering aftermath of one.  Contrary to the song, parents, perhaps you should let your babies grow up to be cowboys.  If ever there was a profession designed to inculcate the ethos of hard work and independence that would be it!  Our youth will need our help to recover fully and we need them to be productively employed, paying into social programs and replenishing the federal coffers.  

Will there be any possible benefit to our children, having experienced the hardships of the recession?  Perhaps.

A recent paper by the economists Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo shows that generations that endured a recession in early adulthood became more concerned about inequality and more cognizant of the role luck plays in life. And in his book, Children of the Great Depression, Glen Elder wrote that adolescents who experienced hardship in the 1930s became especially adaptable, family-oriented adults; perhaps, as a result of this recession, today’s adolescents will be pampered less and counted on for more, and will grow into adults who feel less entitled than recent generations.

If so, I hope to count my children among them.  Interestingly enough my mother, born in 1928, was very adaptable and family-oriented, and ruggedly independent (a label a friend recently tagged me with) as well.  I think the lessons she learned during the hard times in her life, both as a youngster at the tail end of the depression and later as a divorced mother of four school-aged children, and which she imparted to me, go a long way to explaining why I’m able to roll with the punches the last few years have dealt me.  My children were all in orphanages when I adopted them.  I had intended to try my best to make up for that – to give them everything they might have been denied, to raise them full of American self-esteem and the belief that they could do and be anything they could want to be.  I still intend to do that, but just as I did, working my way through both undergraduate and graduate school, they will learn the benefits of earning their self-esteem and rewards through hard-work and perseverance rather than having them handed to them.  They might not be able to have anything they want but I hope they will still believe, and develop the skills to be what they want.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.  With over 8 million jobs lost in the last couple of years, jobs are a big topic in the news, in bars, at the playground, on the senate floor, and at campaign podiums.  Job seekers, job training, creating jobs and WTF to do about all the people who have lost jobs.  In the latter category comes the sometimes heated discussion about unemployment benefits.  As an article in the Christian Science Monitor, entitled  Senate jobs bill: the perils of extended unemployment benefits, says:

The Depression-era program was originally intended as a temporary bridge to help the jobless until a recovery put them back to work – though nearly two-thirds of unemployed workers do not qualify. During a more normal downturn in the economy, states help people who have been laid off with jobless benefits lasting 26 weeks. But now, in some of the hardest-hit states, the long-term unemployed have been able to collect benefits for as long as 99 weeks – almost two years.

Some would argue that the long-term availability of unemployment insurance has turned it into something like welfare in the days before reform: open to abuse and not helpful in encouraging people to actually look for work. “Continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” said Republican Sen. John Kyl, of Arizona.

As someone collecting unemployment benefits I’d like to address some of the real disincentives to look for work or rather disincentives to take work, any work, or to enroll in courses to retool for a new career!

As another news article recounts, taking a part-time or temporary job while searching for a new full-time job can be deadly.  Deadly, that is, to your unemployment benefits. Some job seekers have been taking on jobs they wouldn’t have contemplated a few years ago, just to make a little money, to put food on the table, or stay in their home, only to discover later that by doing so they have re-set the calculation of their unemployment benefits so that they are no longer eligible for any benefits at all once that job ends and they are unable to land another. 

 “What is going on for these workers is that because their most recent wages are much lower than the wages they earned in their prior fulltime job, they are facing substantial cuts in their weekly unemployment benefits,” says George Wentworth, a consultant at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in New York.

In fact, so substantial that in one case the woman’s unemployment benefits went from $483 a week to nothing after she took a brief part-time job. 

I’ve been counseled to take a job, any job, just to, well, to look good to employers.  But will taking a job as someone who hands out samples at Cost-co really make me look good to employers in my field (environmental permitting)?  Would I even put it on my resume?  Umm, no, I wouldn’t.  Would it help me to support my family?  Not really.  The pay would be minimal and after various taxes would probably be less than my unemployment benefit (which, based on my last quarter’s earnings is at the top of the scale – which is still paltry when you are supporting a family of 5).  Plus I’d be paying for after school care or babysitting on top of that. 

And if I take a job handing out samples at Cost-co, or accept the small amount that Salon.com has offered to pay me for article I wrote, I could be up the creek without a paddle if I haven’t landed that full-time job in my field within a year of being laid off.  Because if I don’t have a new, good, job within that time, my unemployment benefits will be recalculated, based on my earnings in the last quarter and if that’s the Salon.com payment my benefits will zip, zero, nada.  And I won’t be able to support my family on that!  So while I was thrilled to secure my first ever paid writing job I won’t be invoicing Salon or filling in the w-9 to report the meager income to the IRS and the unemployment people.  Salon can donate the money to a charity.

Another hindrance built into the system is the fact that you lose your unemployment benefits if you opt to take classes or retrain for a new career. The reasoning is – if you are in school you aren’t available to work and you have to be available to work to collect benefits.  But without the unemployment check how are you going to pay tuition (and rent and food and gas…)?  If they want you to get back in the workforce why don’t they pay you to take classes?  Or let you take part-time jobs without penalizing you when those jobs end and you are once again unemployed? 

Maybe the recession is over, maybe the recovery has started.  But locally unemployment is still over 11% and there are 5 times as many job seekers as jobs.  Obviously in order to get people off the unemployed rolls and back to work, you need JOBS, a lot more jobs, but in the meantime instead of stalling on approving unemployment benefit extensions and griping about how the unemployed are viewing those benefits as entitlements, why not remove the real disincentives to go back to work?

Money, says the proverb, makes money. When you have got a little, it is often easy to get more. The great difficulty is to get that little. ~ Adam Smith

Saving money is the new black.  Yes, the painful message of the recession has found a receptive audience.  Stop borrowing and spending!  Hunker down, simplify, live frugally, and save money!  (However, you might want to stuff those savings in your mattress given that another painful message of the past few years has been that banks are not to be trusted!) 

According to a Bloomberg report:

In the recession following a borrowing binge that sent consumer debt to the highest level ever, Americans are shutting their wallets and building their nest eggs at the fastest pace in 15 years.

From 1960 until 1990, households socked away an average of about 9 percent of their after-tax income, government figures show. Americans got out of the habit in the 1990s as they saw their wealth build up in other ways, first through surging stock prices and then soaring home values.

That process has now gone into reverse. U.S. household wealth fell by $1.3 trillion in the first quarter of this year, with net worth for households and nonprofit groups reaching the lowest level since 2004, according to a Fed report. Wealth plunged by a record $4.9 trillion in the last quarter of 2008.

And other stories  report that it is “time to “pay the piper” and time to sober up, say goodbye to immediate gratification and return to fiscal discipline” and advocate a “recession diet” of frugality and savings.  Here’s a little chart of what was in and out in the early days (2007) of the recession:

IN OUT
Saving Borrowing
Cooking at home Eating out
Fixing the old car New car
Staying at home Foreign vacations
20 percent down No down payment
Debit cards Credit cards
Working past 65 Early retirement
Library Bookstore
Tap water Bottled water
BART Bay Bridge
Patching Remodeling
Public park Theme park
Eyeglasses Lasik surgery
Poker night Weekend in Vegas
Brewing coffee at home Starbucks
Flying coach Flying first class

Source: Chronicle research, BudgetSavvyMag.com

This was the first line of defense when we were just beginning to feel the pinch of the recession and I’ll bet most of you have been tightening your belts and keeping a grip on your wallets for the past year or two.   It’s getting old, isn’t it?

But now we’re told that there is light at the end of the tunnel, economic indicators that demonstrate the recovery has begun.  So will this new frugality and fiscal responsibility last?  Will we turn our backs on the credit industry with its outrageous fees and interest rates and seductive marketing and save until we can afford that coveted purchase?  Or are we so weary of pinching pennies that we are willing to pretend that this recession never happened and resume our profligate ways? Have we learned our lesson?

According to a recent article in the NY Times, the rich are beginning to book luxury vacations again and orders for private jets are up.  Even Middle America is willing to do its best to jump start the economy with a little spending.  According to a recent report, many consumers will put their tax refund towards big ticket items rather than stuffing that windfall into their mattress.  Those planning to splurge still make up a minority of people getting a tax refund, according to the survey, but the numbers are growing. About 12.5 percent of people getting a refund expect to make a major purchase. That is up from 10 percent last year.

Consumers are simply tired of living relatively aus­tere lives, NRF executives said.

“A little bit of ‘free money’ will go a long way for Ameri­cans this year,” Tracy Mul­lin, president and CEO, said in a release announcing the survey results.

“Retailers planning spe­cial promotions over the next few months may find that shoppers are a bit more receptive to opening up their wallets than they have been for the past year.”

So what’s it to be?  Save or spend?  Or, for some of us neither!  That is, we can’t even think about splurging on a big ticket item, nor do we have enough money to make saving seem worthwhile.  Yes, I know I need to save; I have car insurance due in June, and other expenses (oil change, root canal, floor repairs, a new battery to run our water heater, oh, let’s not make a list!) that I will not be able to afford without saving for a while.  I’m committed to saving money, and I have goals for which to save.  In addition to the aforementioned needs, I want to squirrel away every extra penny for a larger trailer, one with bunk beds so each child has a bed to call her or his own.  Even before saving, I know that every extra penny should go to pay my son’s overdue medical bills or to repay the money I owe friends and family, but it is hard to make a $50 payment knowing that at the end of the month the money might be needed for gas or to put food on the table. 

When your basic monthly expenses equal, or frequently exceed your income, it is hard to stash anything aside.  Our windfalls tend to be small and like those other recession weary folk who will spend their tax refund on big ticket items, we (kids especially) are also tired of living austere lives.  If I have an extra $20 it’s easier to say yes to an ice cream treat, or a trip to the $3 movie theater with the kids, than to save it for a ‘dream trailer’ or payment that is not due for 3 months. 

The key to saving money, I’ve decided, is to have money to save! I hope the economic indicators are correct and the recovery is underway.  Spend your money rich folks!  Invest in new developments and businesses!  We still have over 8 million jobs to ‘recover’!

Thank you all for your kind comments about my writing.  From a very young age I have always enjoyed writing and as an adult  have written technical papers and reports in my field and a novel (unpublished) but have never written a non-fiction, biographical book.  Nevertheless I am inspired to consider it, and yesterday (with your donations) picked up two books from Borders – one on writing a bullet-proof book proposal, and another on becoming a freelance writer.  Truthfully I’d be happier making a living (if one can) as a writer than in my profession where I’d risen to the place where long hours, travel and high stress were job requirements! 

But before I get to work on a book (or book proposal) I think I need to email Rep. Bunning about his blocking the extension of jobless benefits.  According to the New York Times, Mr. Bunning has single-handedly blocked consideration of a bill to extend expiring unemployment and related health benefits for 30 days, arguing that the Senate should first find a way to pay for the expense. 

“I don’t know how you negotiate with the irrational,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, told reporters at an informal morning briefing. “I don’t know how you prevent one person who decides they hold in the palm of their hand the livelihood of hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs.”

Unless Mr. Bunning relents, it appears that the added unemployment pay will lapse for tens of thousands of people.

The Washington Post quoted Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) as saying “It’s going to create hardship across America.” He said Bunning’s action would result in 400,000 people nationwide going without an unemployment check, with that number rising each day.

“It’s hard to argue with a senator who wants to become fiscally responsible, and we should be paying for as much as possible,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) according to McClatchy. “I respect the right of each senator to hold up major legislation. However, when it comes to unemployment benefits, I don’t think it’s fair to punish people who’ve already lost their jobs.”

It is so disheartening that people in the most dire of straits have become pawns in this political game.  For many of us without jobs, our jobless benefits (which we paid into as workers, some (like me) for decades) are our only income.  Blocking benefits for 30 days might strike Mr. Bunning as a benign way to call attention to the Federal deficit but I can assure you that it will mean that many more people will slide that much closer to foreclosures, to homelessness, to going hungry and sleeping on the street.  Those who can will dip into their meager savings to pay the mortgage, rent, utilities and other bills, but those who live from benefit check to benefit check will forego paying bills, damaging their credit and falling further behind on their obligations.  It will mean more anxiety, sleepless nights, and tension in families. Another hit on our waning hope. We really don’t need this Mr. Bunning.

Or the jobless, for that matter?  I think the most emotionally debilitating part of this situation has been the isolation it has created.  My interactions with other adult humans are pretty much limited to brief chit chat with the checkout clerk at the grocery store, a comment exchanged with another parent while we await the dismissal bell, and two minutes of conversation with my daughter’s basketball coach at the end of practice.

The kids are less affected as they continue to attend school, have play dates and are involved in activities like basketball, choir and the school play.   But my social circle, small to begin with due to our moving around and unconventional lifestyle (being a single mom to four by choice, a rare thing, even rarer in professional circles), has essentially disappeared. You don’t realized just how important work is for social interactions until you no longer have a job.  As blogger Joe Malik, in “Unemployed in Tacoma” remarks with a measure of humor:

“Until I was summarily booted out of the place, I didn’t realize how much I had come to depend on my workplace for social connections. And that’s the really pathetic part, because most of the people I worked with were generally annoying, or downright despicable human beings.

So why do I miss some of them so much?

Well, the people you work with – whether you like it or not – are kind of like your surrogate family. You see them every day. You know about what goes on in their personal lives… most of all, the workplace seems to be one of the few places that many of us have a chance to make any sort of deep, personal connection with people.”

It is sad how that ‘deep, personal connection’ turns out to be the most superficial of connections once it’s severed. Former colleagues (one of whom recently characterized my blog as a “depressing website” in an email to another former colleague) are the first to disappear off your social landscape. Another place for making those connections is church, but since we left our church (in response to what I considered an unfortunate change in leadership) shortly before becoming unemployed and homeless we discovered those ‘friendships’ to be similarly superficial.  As I’ve remarked before group membership (even unofficial) is what counts.  When you are out, you are really out!

What about friends and family, you ask?  Friends, and family, while initially concerned, seem to grow increasingly uncomfortable with and tired of your unemployed/homeless status the longer it lingers on.  Compassion fatigue settles in. Your status overshadows everything, and while you are both bored with the subject, like an elephant in the room, it cannot be avoided.  So instead they avoid you.  New acquaintances are both curious and repelled by your situation – offering generic words of comfort while withdrawing from interactions with you the way one might do with someone infected with a peculiarly grotesque and contagious disease.  They marvel, “How do you manage?” while backing away. Who invites a leper out for drinks?

Even social networking falls by the wayside as your experience begins to vary substantially from your connections on LinkedIn, your ‘friends’ on Facebook, and the members of all those yahoo groups to which you belong.  It becomes harder for you to relate to their lives and events which begin to seem increasingly complacent and superficial to you, while your struggle with very essential, bottom-line issues is foreign and discomfiting to them. BTW- along this line I plan to start a 2nd blog for single parents in this situation in which there can be multiple authors and points of view, support and resource exchange.  I guess if you lose your group memberships you need to find, or start, new groups!

It’s odd the way this isolation makes itself felt at times.  For instance, most recently, the kids’ school was having one of those jog-a-thon fundraisers to fund future fieldtrips and each family was supposed to find sufficient sponsors to raise $150 per child.  Where do you turn, school fundraiser, or Scout cookie or nut sales, in hand?  To your colleagues, friends, members of your church and the other organizations to which you belong.  And although so starved for conversation that I’ve frequently engaged the checkout clerk in lengthy exchanges to the despair of the people in line behind me, I haven’t been able to bring myself to solicit jog-a-thon sponsorships from complete strangers! 

I’m not the only unemployed person to feel this sense of isolation.  In “The Lonesome City Blues,” Pulitzer Prize winner and former LA Times columnist, Al Martinez, blogs about the loneliness of being unemployed; saying of the jobless, “We occupy a landscape of spiritual desolation.”

Among the unemployed, blog after blog is filled with tales of isolation and loneliness, with the feeling of being cut off from the world around us.  Some people struggle with depression, others tell of the loss of hope, and anxiety about the future.

And a column in USA Today, titled, How Joblessness Hurts Us All, states the following:

“Recent studies confirm the results of research during the Great Depression — unemployment badly frays a person’s ties with his community, sometimes permanently. After careful analysis of 20 years of monthly surveys tracking Americans’ social and political habits, our colleague Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin has found that unemployed Americans are significantly less involved in their communities than their employed demographic twins. The jobless are less likely to vote, petition, march, write letters to editors, or even volunteer. They attend fewer meetings and serve less frequently as leaders in local organizations. Moreover, sociologist Cristobal Young’s research finds that the unemployed spend most of their increased free time alone.  

Moreover, beyond civic disengagement, places with higher joblessness have more pervasive violence and crimes against property. They have more fragile families with harsher parenting, and higher rates of mental disorder and psychological distress among both the unemployed and the employed. These social consequences are a powerful aftershock to communities already reeling economically.”

Our social landscape is changing, shifting and cracking, in ways the still gainfully employed and big financial institutions may not initially notice but will surely feel in the future.

“Flapjack I’m sorry but we’re running low on food, water, and overall enthusiasm.”
Bubbie, in “The marvelous misadventures of Flapjack”

So, when I was laid off at the end of July I focused on what needed to be done then and there, assuming it was an interim situation and we would manage to survive it.  No matter what, we could deal with it together in the short-term.  When we pulled out of the driveway of our rented house (leaving the keys in the mailbox) with the car stuffed to the brim with camping equipment, cooler, dog crate and 4 kids, I spun it as a great adventure.  It didn’t hurt that I started us out with a week at a campground with a water park.  We were camping!  Lanterns and campfires and marshmallows.  What fun!  It was a fantasy that didn’t last long – and by the end of 2 months of moving in and out of a more barebones campground it had become real drudgery.  Oh we moved with a practiced efficiency, setting up and tearing down camp, and packing the van by rote.  My pre-teen became quite the chef on the Coleman camp stove and we no longer flinched at the specks of dirt or insects that ended up in the meal (I took heart in recalling  my grad school buddy who lived for months with the pygmies in Africa and on her return thrilled and disgusted us with her culinary tales- if she could do that, we ought to be able to deal with ‘civilized camping’).  But we were sunburned, bug- bitten, dirty, and tired and dispirited.  The longer the situation wore on, the more it took from us.

Purchasing and moving into the trailer gave us such uplift.  Yes, we could tell from the beginning that it was a small space – perhaps not much larger than our two tents put together, but the security (a door that locked after being in a tent that wouldn’t zip up), and the amenities – real beds, our own bathroom – no trekking together across the campground to a shared public toilet, the air conditioning, the refrigerator (!!) – Oh it seemed like heaven.  Our own little cozy cabin.  But again, in my mind it was a short-term solution; a better, safer, more comfortable and efficient (wireless internet) place from which to find the next job.  I never doubted (then) that I would find another job – I’ve worked all my life since I landed my first job at the age of 14 and when I wanted to leave a job, I’ve always easily lined up another.  I don’t suppose I’m the only unemployed person to discover that the economy trumps my personal experience and skills.  But it’s been a blow, nevertheless!  Like other job seekers I watch the news, looking for signs that we have entered into a ‘recovery’; but like a cloudy crystal ball, the signs are nebulous and indecipherable.  The economic indicators shift like a flag on a windy day, pointing first one way then another.  The pundits, like the competing groundhogs Punxsutawney Phil and Wiarton Willie, disagree on whether a recovery is on the horizon or whether we’ll endure another year of economic winter.  And then there are the particularly scary predictions for a ‘jobless recovery.’  I think that’s where the banks make money but the rest of us stay on the bread lines.

I won’t lie and say I’ve been a Pollyanna filled with hope and sunshine for the past few months.  My job search has become like setting up and tearing down the campsite was by the end of the summer.  I do it by rote.  I’m no longer excited when I find a job opening and I don’t linger by the phone or check my email several times an hour after sending in an application.  I send it in and forget about it and get on with life.  For the past few months I’ve been trying to ignore a nagging fear that a job might not appear in the short term.  And yesterday, an in-depth article published in the New York Times, titled “The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs” tolled the death knoll for any Pollyanna tendencies I still harbored, it blew out my candle of hope when I read it.    

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.

The place we are in, the solution that we could put up with short-term, may be the place we are in for, well, for much longer.  And like Bubbie says in the quote at the beginning of this post – we are running low on overall enthusiasm.  This was meant to be a stop-gap measure and I am absolutely sure that it is NOT a healthy situation beyond that.  At the very least we need more space and privacy to avoid the cracks in our family becoming fissures we are unable to traverse, much less repair. As much as I have felt unable to make long-term plans, it appears that I may be naïve if I don’t try.

“Employment is so much more than a paycheck. It is structure to the day. It is sense of self-worth, value.” Brenda Weitzberg, founder of Aspiritech.

No, no one has actually asked me that question but I’m sure some people have wondered. How do you fill your days if you are unemployed? Well, I don’t sit around watching TV and eating Bonbons all day. We don’t have TV and I can’t afford Bonbons – buying them would eat into my already bare bones wine budget :-)!

Obviously I look for a job, but with the internet it’s not like the days of old when you pounded the pavement, going door to door hat in hand or laboriously copied your resume using carbon paper on a typewriter. My resume is posted on numerous job sites and I have job searches set up with Monster.com and others whereby they send me new job postings that fit what I’m looking for. It generally takes only minutes to read their periodic emails, check out the recommended jobs and browse through craigslist and the local paper online. If there’s a job I can apply for it’s a quick process to send the cover letter and resume through cyberspace (where it usually disappears without further acknowledgement). I do a little networking, although after 6 months of this there’s only so many times you can call up your connections and ask, ‘so, heard of any good possible jobs?” without finding your calls going straight to voicemail.

I’m a mom so it goes without saying that a fair amount of my time, as before when I was employed, goes to taking care of the family. Feeding, shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, helping with homework, and chauffeuring kids to and from school and a variety of activities, all take time. For logistical reasons they all take more time now than when I had a job. I drive a lot more now. For instance because our food storage space is so much smaller I make more trips to the store. Getting the mail means driving to the UPS store where we have a box, instead of walking to the end of the driveway. The trailer park is farther from the kids’ school and if we need to take things to or get things out of our storage unit there’s another extra trip involved.

I attend estate sales and cruise yard sales, looking for things I can pick up for cheap and hopefully sell for more on eBay or via other ways (I’m looking into alternatives to eBay due to their high fees and heavy restrictions on sellers). I have to say that from a financial point of view this has not really been very successful. It requires money to invest and the amount I have limits the quality or quantity of the things I can buy. Sometimes I pick up things that no one is interested in buying from me, sometimes the amount I make after fees and shipping is so small that it’s like working for pennies. But it does provide me with something to do, and a reason to get out of the trailer, so there’s a non-financial benefit of sorts.

I look at ads on Craigslist for larger trailers. Not that we have any money for a larger trailer but this fantasy search has replaced the window shopping that I used to do when employed! I used to love to shop, to just browse through stores, sometimes buying, sometimes not. These days I try to stay clear of stores, aside from buying groceries or making a trip to the .99-cent store to reward the kids.

I listen to NPR. I surf the web. I read a lot; both looking for articles and posts that might help me in my situation and those that might tie into future blog themes. I write. I generally have 2 or 3 posts in draft form that I’m working on – researching and writing.  I consider this work, even though it isn’t a ‘real job.’ It provides intellectual stimulation and makes me feel somewhat connected to other people.  Lately I’ve been working on developing an archaeology workshop which I will present next month at the local children’s museum – another somewhat intellectual endeavor.

And I worry and wonder about our future.

That’s what I do now that I don’t ‘work.’

 BTW – a Google search on the topic of “what do the unemployed do all day” turned up 13.5 million results. After perusing about half of them (yep, that’s what I did today :-)) I’m reminded again of the quote at the beginning of this post – ‘employment is structure to the day’.

Box Car Kids

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